Don’t set and forget your meds

“I’ve been on my gout medication since the 1990s. No one ever suggested I stop taking it, doc,” Jerry told Dr John Whyte during a general health check-up.

Jerry explained that he had a variety of health conditions and was taking at least six different medicines. When he was asked how long it had been since his last gout flare-up, he proudly replied: “I haven’t had one in 20 years.”

Dr Whyte says that Jerry’s experience isn’t unusual, that he maybe hasn’t had a recurrence in two decades because he’s been on the medicine, or maybe he doesn’t need to be on the drug anymore.

“Many older patients are still taking medication that had been prescribed to them when they were much younger, without anyone questioning whether they should still be taking it,” says Dr Whyte, chief medical officer at WebMD.

“Think about it – has your doctor ever comprehensively reviewed all your medicines with you – and discontinued one or lowered a dose?”

Dr Whyte says it is critical that we regularly review our medications with our doctors to see if any changes are warranted.

“Every drug has risks and benefits, and that balance can sometimes shift as we age. 

“In fact, certain drugs should be outright avoided as you get older. Yet, most older patients are unaware of this.”

Dr Whyte explains that this was one of findings that had surfaced in a survey on age-friendly health systems conducted by WebMD and The John A. Hartford Foundation.

“We surveyed nearly 3000 patients and caregivers, aged 65 and older, and the results were a bit sobering,” he says. “We learnt that the care of older adults is mired in misinformation, especially among minority populations, with older patients and caregivers mistakenly believing that sharp declines in the quality of life are inevitable.

You can learn more about the survey results here, but some of the most concerning findings were:

  • Forty per cent of those surveyed were unaware that certain prescription medications affect the quality of their thinking.
  • More than two-thirds of caregivers said that the person in their care had difficulty walking around and half said they had fallen within the past year. Very few were doing any activities to improve mobility.
  • Only a very small percentage talked to their doctors about their concerns and fears or shared their future health goals.
  • Forty per cent of respondents incorrectly thought that depression was an inevitable part of ageing.

So, why are many older patients not getting the care and the information they need?

Dr Whyte says: “I think part of the reason is that patients and caregivers often aren’t sure what to expect – and what they should demand – from doctors and the healthcare system. They just accept the status quo, but we need to change that.

“Patients and caregivers need to know that they can and should ask for care that meets their specific needs.”

Medical advances and a greater focus on healthy eating and general wellbeing mean we are living longer. But now we need medical care that will help to optimise our health as we age.

Dr Whyte says we need age-friendly care that is evidence-based, causes no harm and is always consistent with what matters to the older person.

But that kind of change will only happen if patients and caregivers ask for it and start to expect it, he says.

And, in case you are wondering, Jerry did stop his gout medicine and he has been doing very well.

Do you regularly review any medicines you are taking? Do you question the need for the medicine?

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Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

Written by Janelle Ward

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